Thursday, March 3, 2016

Society: Transform It or Explode It?

I've been reading two 500 page books at the same time, always an interesting experience.  What makes it even more interesting is that each book explores the lives and times of a group of idealists.

I first began reading The Fellowship:  The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.  It looks at the literary and spiritual lives of the intellectual group, The Inklings, which included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

Then I needed more time to finish it--because it is a big book, after all.  I was at the end of the allowed renewals.  So on Feb.19, I went to the library to turn it in and then check it back out again.

While I was there, I also got Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage, about the explosive activism of the 70's.  The author's thesis says that most Americans don't know about these groups, but I did, good Sociology major and social justice activist that I am.  Still, it's been interesting, although I'm learning more about bomb locations than I really care about.

Through the month of February and the early weeks of March, I would pick up one and then the other.  And lately, I've been thinking about the contrast between the two groups that each book explores.  In light of our current political season, these ideas seem ever more relevant.

Much of the explosive anger that Burrough describes is rooted in a vision for a different America, a vision that is thwarted in so many ways.  For some groups, it seems tantalizingly close.  Other groups never have a chance at the societal--or personal--transformations which they crave.

If any of these groups have a spiritual grounding, Burrough doesn't explore it.  My research has told me that these groups did not.  Other groups that emerged out of the various movements of the 60's did have a spiritual base, and many of them are still active and transformative.

And then you have the Inklings, who envisioned a variety of different worlds, and who were very rooted in Christian disciplines.  These were men who many of them suffered losses far more severe than those suffered by the people whom Burrough describes--and they don't turn to incendiary devices.

Why do some people abandon their social justice work altogether?  Why do some turn to destruction when transformation seems impossible?  What keeps some of us working quietly towards the vision described by the most eloquent prophets?

Those are questions that have haunted me for much of my life, and I don't expect to settle them fully.  I do suspect that the answer lies in the spiritual life and disciplines of each person and group.

No comments: